(Media stakeout at the Rayburn House Office Building. Participating were Rep. Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Gen. John Abizaid, commander, U.S. Central Command.)
Hunter: Hi folks, we had an excellent briefing in which we invited the membership of the House to get an update from Secretary Wolfowitz and Gen. Abizaid who is the commanding officer of CENTCOM on the situation in Iraq.
We had I think a excellent question/answer session and we had an opportunity to listen to a lot of the progress that has been made in Iraq and Mr. Secretary why don’t we –- I know you’ve got to get back over to the Senate. Why don’t we take maybe two or three questions and we’ll send him on his way.
Wolfowitz: And I have with me John Abizaid, the Central Commander’s on his way back out to the theater. In fact we thought we wanted to catch John before he left the country, it’s an unusual opportunity to hear from him.
It’s very important to us to continue having the extraordinary support we’ve had from the Congress. It means everything to the troops in the field. They know what they’re fighting for and it’s very important to them to know that Congress supports them and their efforts and they appreciate the support that we’ve been giving them.
Abizaid: I’d just like to say that we very much welcome the opportunity to talk to our representatives. We entertained a lot of questions ranging from troop levels to how the troops are doing, to whether or not we can sustain the commitment over time, to the internationalization of the force, to whether or not we can build more Iraqi capacity. We’re very confident in the way ahead. We know it won’t be easy but the troops are confident and doing a great job out there.
Q: General Abizaid is it necessary for (Inaudible.) troops to (Inaudible.)?
Abizaid: I understand the question as, do we keep up the same numbers of troops over time?
Q: Do we necessarily have (Inaudible.)?
Abizaid: Well certainly we very much would welcome the inclusion of international forces and we have long said for a quite a while that we would welcome that. We certainly would welcome the inclusion of Muslim forces that would come on to the stabilization force and any of those forces that would come would bring with them significant capacity and would do much to enhance the security. But more important is building Iraqi security capacity over time, which is really our number one priority.
Hunter: Let’s have one more question and then they have to go.
Here let’s let this lady go. Go ahead.
Q: Former Secretary White on this point is quite critical in the new book saying that it was insufficient planning for active post-Iraq war. How do you respond to that?
Wolfowitz: I haven’t read his book. There’s been a lot of planning for all phases of this war and many aspects of the plan I think have been spectacularly successful and any plan has got to adjust to realities we’re finding on the ground and this plan has been adjusting steadily. But you know there’s certain things -- let’s take specifically this issue of the U.N. Resolution that didn’t sort of emerge out of nowhere a few days ago. It’s been on our agenda ever since the fall of Baghdad -- understanding that we wanted to bring in more international troops and part of that plan is going to try to get U.N. support.
I think we had a breakthrough, a sad one, but the bombing of the U.N. Headquarters, I think, changed the atmosphere in New York. And it looks like we can move forward in that area. So things change. You exploit opportunities. You deal with surprises, I think overall this has been a remarkable, flexible plan.
Abizaid: I think that any plan, as the Secretary said, needs to be constantly revised and looked at. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons that I’m going out to the region is to take my planning staff with me in order to get with Ambassador Bremer and General Sanchez and work the way ahead with regard to timings, end states, etc.
Q: How much -- ?
Hunter: And thanks a lot folks.